Bell/Agusta Delivers AB139 to Aga Khan, Wins Irish Order
Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co. delivered the first of four AB139s to the Aga Khan Development Network, which will use them to support construction and operation of three campuses of an international university in the mountains of South and Central Asia. The partnership of Bell Helicopter Textron and Agusta Westland also won an order from Ireland's Defence Dept., which picked the new medium twin over Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.'s Black Hawk for its Air Corps' utility helicopter requirements.
The Aga Khan Development Network plans to use the AB139 to ferry people and material for construction of three campuses of the University of Central Asia. The campuses will be at Khorog, Tajikistan, where the Pamir, the Hindu Kush, and the Karakorum mountain ranges meet; at Naryn, the Kyrgyz Republic, in the Tien-Chan mountain range, and at Tekeli, Kazakhstan, in the Altaï ountains. The university was founded by the presidents of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan along with the Aga Khan "to foster economic and social development throughout the vast and impoverished mountain zones of Central Asia." The Aga Khan is imam of the world's Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim community and is considered by them to be a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad. The aircraft, the third delivered, was handed over Oct. 28, 2004 at Agusta's Vergiate, Italy plant .
The AB139s are to be based in Bishkek in the Kyrgyz Republic, Dushanbe in Tajikistan and Islamabad, Pakistan. Those nations have had helipads and hangars built in Bishkek, Dushanbe and Islamabad. Four pilots and two engineers will be stationed at each site. Initially, Swiss pilots will direct the operations, but local pilots eventually will take over after they are trained at the Agusta Bell facilities in Milan, Italy.
The Aga Khan Development Network has used Agusta Bell AB412s for more than 15 years to support initiatives in health care, water and sanitation, education and rural development in the Karakorum mountains of northern Pakistan. Extreme conditions and the inaccessibility of sites are major impediments to the development of high-mountain areas, and hinder access for international organizations seeking to improve the quality of life in the region. "Our experience shows that the logistical efficiencies gained from the use of helicopters have had a positive impact on the beneficiaries, the poor in remote, high mountain areas, in terms of the speed, efficiency and quality of development activities," said the Aga Khan.
The AB139s will replace the AB412s.
In Ireland, the Defence Dept. expected to finalize by mid-December an agreement to acquire four AB139s as well as two Eurocopter EC135s, barring an appeal of the aircraft selections by Sikorsky, which had offered the S-70 Black Hawk for the utility missions. The AB139s would be used for air ambulance, troop transport, inland search and rescue, VIP transport missions. The Air Corps, known by the Irish name Garda, will use the EC135s for pilot training. The Garda currently operates Alouette 3s, AS355N Squirrel 2s, SA342L Gazelles and SA365F Dauphin 2s.
Bell/Agusta Aerospace expected to gain U.S. FAA certification of the AB139 before the end of 2004. That certification was expected to be accompanied by approval of the Italian ENAC airworthiness authority of the AB139 configured with four displays for its Honeywell Primus Epic avionics suite. ENAC issued a type certificate in June 2003 for the AB139 fitted with three displays, but the FAA required installation of the fourth display in the aircraft.